The Coachman (Play)

Coach House

Based on the novel, The Time Jigsaw.

It is March 1940 and Britain is at war with Germany. William Carsell-Brown has received his call-up papers and will become an officer with a local regiment heading for France. He is an accountant who lives with his pretty young wife in a rural Scottish village, situated on picturesque Loch Fyne. However, he is not a man to engage in conflict and with his father-in-law being a World War 1 hero, William feels that he will not fulfil his family’s expectations. He enters a public house in the village to drown his sorrows. Two hours later, a stranger appears in the small quaint outlet. He spots William, a lonely figure slumped in a corner. The stranger approaches William, then attempts to befriend him. After a chat, an inconsolable and intoxicated William stands up, then staggers out of the public house. The stranger follows him to a sports car, which has been badly parked in a nearby lane. As William is about to get into the car, the stranger insists on being the driver. William listens to reason then hands over the ignition key.
The next day, William’s wife Olivia waits anxiously for her husband to arrive home. Whilst she prepares dinner in the kitchen, Olivia ponders over what happened yesterday evening and this morning’s meeting with a man called James Carlisle. By driving her husband home, he no doubt prevented a serious accident and injury to William. Olivia hears the front door open then close.

“Is that you, William?” Olivia stirs a pot of stew on the black stove.
“No, it’s the gardener.” William hangs his charcoal double-breasted jacket on the hall coatstand, then enters the kitchen.
“Very funny.” Olivia stops stirring and looks at William. “How do you feel?”
“Hungover but hungry – can’t wait for dinner!” William sniffs the air.
“I did what you asked and met with James Carlisle, to thank him.”
“Splendid, and I will stop drinking.”
William walks to the white ceramic sink, fills a glass tumbler with water, then drinks it. “Ah, that’s better!”
Olivia resumes stirring the pot. “William?”
“Yes?” He places the empty tumbler on the sink.
“Do you recall when your parents told us about Aunt Lydia’s accident?”
“Yes, it happened not long after our wedding.” William loosens his grey necktie. “She was staying in Glasgow and had a fall in her hotel room.”
“Did they mention James Carlisle being in the vicinity?”
“Yes, they did.” William picks up a folded newspaper from the wooden kitchen table, then sits down on a wooden chair.
“Why was he in Glasgow?”
“Not sure.” William unfolds the newspaper. “Whilst there, he visited Lydia and found her lying injured, then alerted the hotel staff.”
Olivia sprinkles salt into the pot. “Before moving to America, which lady member of the family lived at your parent’s property?” Olivia glances towards William. “The lady who sailed on the Titanic.”
“Elizabeth?” William opens the broadsheet newspaper. “Yes, Elizabeth Carsell-Brown.”
“Whilst living at the property, was she involved in an accident?”
“I’m not sure.” William reads the front page.
“Did Nancy, the housekeeper, not tell Geoffrey and yourself about the coachman who prevented her from being trampled on by a runaway horse?”
“Yes, I remember now.” William turns the page. “I believe the coachman pushed her out of its path and was injured in the process.”
“What happened to him?”
“He ended up in the hospital at Lochgilphead.” William turns another page.
“After that, what became of him?”
“He left. Nancy would speak well of the coachman with his unfamiliar East Coast accent to Geoffrey and myself.” William coughs. “She believed he would return one day.”
“Can you recall his name?”
“John, I think.”
“James?” Olivia glances at William.
“It may have been.” William sneezes.
“Bless you.
“He also worked as a coachman for the first residents of the property, Charles and Mary.”
“Shortly before the new century.” William looks at Olivia. “Why all the questions?”
“I would speculate an accident was also averted there.”
“Olivia, what are you eluding to?”
“Did Nancy discuss the first family?” Olivia stops stirring and adjusts her white patterned apron.
“Only on one occasion, a problem which related to the coach.”
“The coach?” Olivia glances at William then stirs the pot.
“Something to do with one of the wheels.” William turns another page. “The coachman took it to a firm for repair.” William reads an article on the page.
“Why would Nancy tell you?”
“She didn’t, I overheard her conversation with mother.” William lays down the newspaper and looks at Olivia. “When Mary Carsell-Brown received the bill for mending the coach, she was not pleased.”
“Too expensive.”
“Really?” Olivia glances at William.
“Nancy thought how ungrateful, if the coach had not been repaired then someone could have received a nasty injury.”
“I agree.”
“Mother concluded that Mary Carsell-Brown blamed the coachman and that was why he left his position.”
“William, I feel this could be the person who brought you home last night.” Olivia looks at William. “He is at the scene of a potential accident concerning our family, intervenes and prevents serious injury.” Olivia stops stirring. “Also, he has the same name!”
“Lydia only had a slight fall.”
“And taken to hospital where she remained for three weeks! If James Carlisle had not discovered her, who knows what the consequences would have been.”
“Since the instances have occurred over five decades, could they not be a coincidence?” William folds the newspaper. “Also, it can’t be the same person as the coachman would be almost eighty years old, whereas James Carlisle is in his late thirties.”
“What if the coachman is someone who can travel through time, and therefore does not age?”
“Similar to the tale Geoffrey and I made up when we were children.” William smiles.
Olivia raises her thin dark eyebrows. “Oh?”
“We found a book in the coach house, ‘The Time Machine’ by HG Wells, then
told all our friends that the former coachman was a time traveller.”
“But have there not been sightings of him throughout the ages?”
“Olivia, they are just rumours, plus James Carlisle was not wearing a coachman’s outfit last night!”
“When I discussed my grandmother and father with him, he appeared to know them.” Olivia smiles. “William, why the curious expression?”
“I have remembered something from last night.” William places his newspaper on the table. “James spoke of your father being posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross in 1916 – I didn’t reveal that to him.”
“How could he have known?”
William shrugs his shoulders. “Perhaps someone in the village told him.”
“You have that expression again.”
“Before Nancy retired in 1926, she made Geoffrey and I promise not to enter the upstairs coachman’s quarters in the coach house.”
“Why not?”
“She told us that part of the floor was unsafe, therefore we
could only play downstairs.”
“And did you?”
William shakes his head. “The access door to upstairs was locked however, we managed to find a key.”
Olivia turns the gas knob on the stove anti-clockwise. “And?” She sits down opposite William.
“We crept up the creaky staircase and looked around – the solitary interest being a closet.” William twirls his brown moustache. “The door would not budge but Geoffrey used his strength and managed to open it.”
“Was anything in the closet?”
“A package, cash box and a letter.”
“Whose name was on the letter?”
Olivia leans forward. “What did you do next?”
“Nothing.” William smiles. “We went back downstairs and when father found out we had been upstairs, he gave us a ticking off.”
“Could the letter still be there?”
“Fourteen years have passed and although the coach house has not been in use, father may have gone upstairs within that time and removed the items.”
“There is no reason for him to enter the closet.”
“If the letter is not there, are you suggesting James Carlisle has taken it?”
“The letter did state ‘James, perhaps Nancy left it for him?”
“You are only speculating, Olivia.”
Olivia frowns.
“Besides, the access door which leads upstairs is kept locked – how would he gain entry?”
“Maybe he appears and disappears from the coachman’s quarters – a gateway through time. The sightings of him throughout the decades have been near the coach house.”
“Since there is no time machine, how does he travel?” William smiles. “Olivia, don’t you think your theory is far-fetched?”
“When your parents return from Edinburgh, we will visit them and take a look around the coach house.” Olivia sits back on the chair. “There is another way to find out if James Carlisle and the coachman are the same person.”
“An eye-witness.” Olivia folds her arms. “My grandmother and her friends once met the coachman however, she is unwell at present.”
“When did they meet him?”
“I am not sure of the exact date, maybe near the end of the last century.” Olivia smiles. “According to my grandmother, he arrived at her property in a shiny black coach with two white horses and had come to collect a parcel for his employer.”
“A coachmans’ duties would include being a courier – no Royal Mail in those days!”
“My grandmother found him charming.”
William smiles.
“As a child, I also recall her telling me that he wore a smart outfit – black hat, red coat, black trousers and dark leather boots up to his knees.”
“What about your grandmother’s friends, they may recognise him?”
“They have either passed away or are being cared for.”
“The problem is finding someone in the village who met the coachman.”
“What about employee records, the owner must have kept details of those who worked at the property?”
“Not for a coachman, he would be classed as casual labour and paid cash out of the owner’s pocket.”
“Are you sure?”
William nods his head.
“Wait a minute!” Olivia lays her left hand on the table. “What about the original gardener at the property, Angus?”
“Mother spoke to him at Nancy’s funeral two years ago however, he was frail and used a walking stick.”
“He must be at least seventy.” Olivia sighs. “More than half a century of garden work would no doubt take its toll.”
“I heard from a colleague that Angus’s son, Andrew, now runs the family business.”
“I shall locate the premises and pay Andrew a visit tomorrow.” Olivia smiles. “Perhaps Angus will be there and if not, Andrew can supply me with his father’s address.” Olivia stands up. “As James Carlisle is at present in the village, Angus can confirm my suspicion.”
“Do not get your hopes up, Olivia.”
“Be back in a minute.” Olivia departs the kitchen.
William pulls out a silver coin from his suit trouser pocket. He had discovered it this morning under the driver’s seat of his car. He examines the seven-sided coin – it does not have a King’s image but that of a Queen. He looks at the date. It is 2020.